May 7, 2020
The Power Of A Lasting Impression: EveryStep Hospice Nurse Debbie Keil
From the time she was a little girl, Debbie Keil knew she wanted to be a nurse, though she didn't always know hospice care was the place for her.
"I worked as a volunteer at Iowa Lutheran Hospital during my middle school and high school years and wanted to be like the nurses I admired there," the EveryStep Hospice nurse recalls. "They were strong, smart and compassionate and I wanted to be like them."
While Debbie's plans took a small detour after high school, she didn't let that get in the way of her dreams to be a nurse. Instead, she started pursing her goal as a non-traditional student after she'd gotten married and had children.
Not long before Debbie started nursing school, she discovered hospice care.
"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and ended up in the care of the Hospice of Central Iowa care team [now EveryStep] in her home and at the Kavanagh House on Grand," Debbie recalls. "I had no idea what hospice was and I watched the nurse's loving care for my mom in a way I hadn't seen during her battle with cancer."
That compassion and gentleness made a lasting impression, but it wasn't the only thing that stuck out to Debbie. The care and comfort the hospice team brought to her entire family was remarkable.
"They also tolerated us, we were one of those families that takes over the whole place and never leaves," Debbie recounts, adding that she was just 27 and had a new baby at the time. "We never felt like we weren't welcome and it allowed us the time we needed to process our loss."
As Debbie was going through nursing school, it was those nurses she was inspired by.
"I wanted to be like them," she said.
And that's exactly what she's done, turning the experience she and her family had into a career with EveryStep.
Since joining the metro team as a hospice nurse, Debbie has been able to forge her own relationships with patients and their families, providing care, comfort and compassion when it's needed most.
"Families bring you in during a really stressful, emotional time and look to their nurse for help and guidance," she says, adding that at EveryStep she's never alone, as each discipline - including social workers, spiritual care counselors and medical teams work together to provide complete care for patients and their families.
"The team approach and support we give to each other is unlike any experience I have had in other nursing positions," she says.
But it's not just her peers that provide Debbie with support day in and day out on the job; her patients and their families have also kept her going.
"What surprises me most of the time is the support I get from a patient’s family," she says. "I am supposed to be supporting them, but often times it goes both way."
Debbie recalls one patient in particular who embodied what it means to live every day to the fullest.
The woman, who had lived a very active life, came to EveryStep's Kavanagh House on 56th Street in Des Moines after discontinuing treatment for breast cancer.
While the woman's physical abilities declined rather quickly, she never stopped smiling and living, Debbie recalls. The woman made the most of every day and even hosted a dinner party for her friends and family at the hospice house, donning a black dress and fixing her hair and makeup.
"She enjoyed her life every day, she never felt sorry for herself and she welcomed me in as if I was part of her family," Debbie says.
In the end, Debbie notes that this patient truly proved what hospice nursing is all about.
"Hospice nursing is not about dying," she says. "We are about the living and assisting our patients in getting the most out of life."
Embracing Changing Times
While Debbie's dedication to providing care to hospice patients and their families has never wavered, she has adjusted to the changing world – most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Debbie heard EveryStep president and CEO Tray Wade announce that the organization would open a dedicated hospice unit for COVID-19 patients, she says, "I knew I wanted to be part of it…in my heart I knew I needed to be involved."
Still, the transition wasn't entirely without stress.
"Of course there is some fear associated with the idea of getting COVID-19," she says. "I have a family and my dad lives with me, so I naturally worried about bringing that home. I never questioned the fact that I would need to care for COVID-positive patients, rather how would I keep my family and those I have in my life safe while still providing care."
After long discussions with her husband and father, Debbie felt ready to provide care to those who need it the most during this difficult time.
"I hear stories of people in the hospitals dying without their family," she says. "People in long-term care are cut off from their loved ones because of the restrictions. Having a unit that would bring family to the bedside for COVID-19 patients is important, it is what hospice is."
One of the more difficult transitions in care has been the need to done full personal protective equipment (PPE) while providing care in the new unit.
"It is hard to get used to the flow of getting all the PPE on," Debbie says. "You can’t just jump up when the call light goes off, it takes time to get ready to enter the patient room."
While the layers of PPE are hot and it doesn’t take long to start sweating, Debbie says it’s worth it. She points out that EveryStep has done a lot of research and preparation to keep her and others safe while on the job.
"I feel well equipped to provide quality care," she says, noting that working for EveryStep has given her a bit of peace of mind during this time.
"EveryStep has put a considerable amount of time and effort to educate and prepare staff to provide care for COVID-19 positive patients while keeping our other patients safe," she says. "EveryStep has also continually shared their commitment to staff. I have not had to worry about being able to provide for my family."
"In a time of uncertainty it is comforting to know that EveryStep Hospice will continue to provide support for their employees and community," Debbie says.
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